Remembrance Sunday 2015
Micah 4.1-5 (as at Morning Prayer); Mark 1.14-20
We are made by what we remember, by the stuff laid down in the cellars of our mind, forming and fashioning us. It’s the stuff we can never wholly forget. For most of us, naturally, the images we have of the major wars, so distant now in time, are derived from film and books, things found in Google images: the tin-hatted Tommy, a long way from Tipperary; the deep fog defending St Paul’s; the emaciated victims of Belsen, liberated just in time.
But each generation experiences its own wars and generates its own stock of iconic images. Yours might be the picture of the little girl running naked from the dense smoke of destruction in the Vietnam war. Or it may be the smoke of HMS Sheffield struck by Exocet missiles in the South Atlantic in 1982. For many more there is the picture of the Twin Towers, brought down by terrorists in 2001, black smoke filling the skies as, floors beneath, men and women jumped heartbreakingly from window-sills to avoid sure incineration in the bright orange flames that plumed extravagantly from the tower tops.
More recently still, the body of Aylan Kurdi, the boy washed-up lifeless on a Turkish beach some weeks ago is also fixed, not easily to be erased, one more victim of war, a consequence of what Mr Chamberlain might have called “a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”
All of us, then, including the youngest teenager, have something to remember today, even though remembrance itself has changed. For today is not like the remembrance of the Armistice in the 1920s and 30s when families and villagers remembered their own fallen kin, honouring the sacrifice of fathers and brothers, nephews, neighbours, sons. For most of us now, our engagement with this remembering of the valiant dead is through art and history, through things we’ve learned at school or seen on TV. Most of us have no friends or relations who have died in warfare. Our Remembrance Sunday is a requiem for all the unknown men and women whose lives have been and will be lost as a result of our human inability to share the wealth and beauty of our planet fairly, without falling from time to time into destruction, murder and bloodshed.
It is the same flawed quality of humankind that appals the Prophet Micah in the chapter immediately before today’s extract from the Old Testament. It is here that he describes the doom that will be so easily recognisable to all those who have suffered the reality of warfare:
Hear, you rulers of the house of Israel! You hate the good and love the evil; you eat the flesh of my people; you detest justice, you build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. Because of you Zion shall be ploughed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins.
From this, in chapter 4, follows the description of what shall happen “in the latter days” when
the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains. Many people shall flow to it and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord that he may teach us his ways. He shall judge between peoples. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit everyone under their vine and under their fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
Those who have witnessed the death and destruction of chapter three have been not so much destroyed by what they have remembered of previous suffering, but rather have been built and sustained by its counterpart, a vision and a longing for what can be and must be the case when the smoke has cleared. It is precisely this vision of how things shall be when they are finally ordered as they should be, that the gospel writers call the coming of the Kingdom of God.
But notice in today’s gospel reading how modest are the resources Jesus calls as his accomplices in beginning this transformation! No armies. No great strategists. No advertising campaign. Just two pairs of brothers messing about in boats. One pair, Simon and Andrew, are casting their net into the water for a feed of fish; another pair, James and John, are quietly busying themselves, mending their nets while they chat with their father and the labourers who help them.
The mending of nets is a beautiful image, undoubtedly. On the one hand, it is quietly practical and prosaic, conjuring a vision of patient workers deftly knitting together the criss-cross strands on which they rely for their daily survival. But it is yet more powerful as a metaphor, speaking of the slow process of binding together the disparate strands of a community, linking the ways in which my life and yours, his life and hers are all intertwined and interdependent. As we always say, only we can know what it is that our nets have to carry; only we know what our personal circumstances are. But any course of action, the repair of any relationship, the seeking out of any healing will be a mending of our own nets, and so an equipping of us for the work in this parish of mending the nets of the world around us.
Now, the world’s needs are very urgent, there are infinite nets to mend, and the task of this net-mending is supremely pressing. It is natural that much of the task will fall to government, big business, the military, the international charity organisations: it will be a work of strategy, economics, diplomacy and politics, and it will go on at a level of society far more elevated than any at which we here might expect to operate.
But this does not exclude us at all from the task of mending nets, for all our lowliness . Our task is as simple and as urgent as it always is: to do what we can locally in our church and in our school to pave the way for the just reign of God through
- proclaiming the kingdom;
- teaching the faith;
- responding to need;
- opposing injustice and violence; and
- safeguarding creation.
For all of this, we will need strong nets to carry not a weight of fish, but the immense weight of future hopes and past hatreds, that cargo of dreams and fears which, if sorted through with patience, will lead to an unimaginably rich harvest for our society, and a bequest of immense blessing for our children and theirs as they inhabit a Jerusalem newly built in England’s green and pleasant land.
As we honour today the memory of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, we have heads and hearts full of the images of war and humanity at its worst. But despite these we must commit ourselves, along with Andrew and Peter, James and John, to an ineradicable vision of the kingdom, and to the gathering in of a great catch of fruitfulness, a rich shoal of human souls.
We begin by mending our nets.